Studying maths and statistics

A good understanding of maths is needed for many areas of study, such as agriculture, business, economics, information technology, engineering, psychology, pharmacy or plumbing. This means some of your courses may include some maths and/or stats, even though it is not mentioned in the course name or descriptor.

If you find maths challenging or are anxious about it you are not alone. The good news is you probably know more than you think because maths is used every day.

Below are some steps to help you approach your maths assignments:

Reading

One of the first steps in succeeding in maths is reading. 

  • First skim read the learning material, activities and the assignment questions to get an overview of what you need to do.
  • Then read everything again. Mark important sections and parts that aren’t clear to you (try using the SQ3R strategy)
  • While you’re reading think about the material, and ask yourself questions about it. Try to answer those questions in your own words. If you can’t, re-read the material to help your understand. You can also check your course forums or talk to your tutor. 
  • Make notes. This helps focus your mind, and you can note the sections you don’t fully understand so that you can go back to them.

Answering the assignment question

  • Check that you understand and are answering the question you've been asked. It’s no good knowing how to do something of you are misinterpreting the actual question.
  • Think about how you intend to answer the questions. What are you going to do? How many steps are there?
  • Start from the beginning and work through each step in turn. Write out each step clearly and neatly. This will make it less likely you’ll misread something you’ve written and easier to check your work.

Check

  • Check that figures and symbols have been written down correctly.
  • Check all your calculations.
  • Double check all calculator work: it’s easy to hit the wrong button, but we seldom make the same mistake twice.

What to do if you get stuck

  • Take a minute and think about what you’ve done and what you need to do. Is there anything else you can try, perhaps draw a picture?
  • Recheck your figures and calculations.
  • Go back to your learning material and reread the section dealing with that type of problem.
  • Look for a similar example. Don’t just read the example – work through it. Compare your workings and answer to the worked example.
  • If you're still can't work it out, leave the problem for a while and move on to the next problem. Then go back to the one you couldn’t do and give it another go.

If you still can’t answer the question you could:

  • Post to the course forum and ask the class.
  • Contact your lecturer: explain what your problem is and what you’ve done to try to solve it. Email them so that you can include your working, and the lecturer’s answer will be in writing so you’ll have a record of it.

More tips for studying maths

When studying maths, remember:

  • It can help to memorise some things so that you know them automatically. For example, times tables and formulas. Rote learning (memorisation by repetition) works well for this.
  • Practise your mental arithmetic - don't always rely on a calculator, as you may not always have one available.
  • Don’t skip topics. Maths is like a building: if the foundation isn’t sound and all the pieces aren’t in place, the building will collapse.
  • Learn from a variety of sources, such as your learning materials, the recommended readings and resources, the internet, books and periodicals.
  • Teach someone else. This is a great way to learn. The online forums may give you an opportunity for this, or imagine how you would explain a concept or show a student how to solve a problem, or your kids or anyone who’s prepared to listen. 

Back to basic maths

If you haven’t done maths for a long time, or haven’t ever done much maths, you need to get back to the basics. Below is a list of sites that can help you learn and practice your maths skills

Maths – BBC Skillwise (opens in new window)

Math – Khan Academy (opens in new window)

Mathematics and Statistics – The Open University (opens in new window)

Maths first - Massey University (opens in new window)

Related information